It’s been apparent for the last 18 months that Liverpool and Man City are in a league of their own.
As Spurs, Chelsea, Arsenal and Man United have been hampered by a variety of problems in recent times, the reigning European champions and the first team to ever sweep every domestic trophy in a single English season have set an unprecedented standard.
Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool and Pep Guardiola’s City are the only two teams in Premier League history to reach 98+ points in a season (twice in the case of the current champions).
Both teams are way ahead of the rest in many aspects of the game, but let’s focus on one particular area in which these two teams demonstrate their superiority on a weekly basis — crossing.
Last week, Liverpool and City were both 1-0 down at half time.
The former rescued three points against Aston Villa via a beautiful Sadio Mane cross for Andrew Robertson and a Trent Alexander-Arnold corner for the Senegalese forward.
The latter rallied as Kyle Walker reached the byline before pulling it back to Sergio Aguero for the equaliser, before the England defender scored the winner after Angelino’s byline cross troubled Southampton’s Alex McCarthy.
It’s not a coincidence all four full-backs were involved in the decisive goals.
A clip has since done the rounds of Guardiola giving his players some last-minute instructions before the start of the second half.
Most of it the speech consists of variants of ‘be positive’ but he also says: “Don’t cross to cross. Cross the ball with a good intention.”
City had not crossed the ball with true purpose in the first half and that was the primary reason they had been nullified be a Southamtpon defence who shipped nine against Leicester.
They reverted to their usual style and scored two goals from byline cutbacks, something they’ve done countless times under Guardiola.
It’s simple advice – cross the ball with a good intention – but it’s too often unheeded.
How many teams are guilty of aimlessly delivering the ball into the box without genuinely trying to find a team-mate?
It’s often described as ‘putting it in an area’ and while this may lead to assists occasionally, such crosses lack the intention Guardiola demands and are relatively easy to defend against.
Most professional centre-backs and keepers would back themselves to deal with floated crosses to the back post for as long as the opposition persisted.
When Kevin De Bruyne delivers a cross, he does it with emphasis.
Alexander-Arnold does the same.
Both players actively attempt to seek out a team-mate in the box or, if one’s not visible, they aim to put it in the corridor between the defenders and the keeper with pace, turning the opposition centre-backs around so they are facing their own goal.
The results are there for all to see.
Two-time winner of the Premier League’s Playmaker award, De Bruyne already seems to have a third sewn up with no other player providing even half of his nine league assists at this stage.
Whereas Alexander-Arnold provided 12 league assists last season, a new record among Premier League defenders.
While De Bruyne and Alexander-Arnold are the best exponents, purposeful crossing is a team-wide trait at Anfield and the Etihad.
On Sunday we can expect both pairs of full-backs to engage in a game of chicken, where both seek to get in-behind the other without leaving their side too exposed.
If their Premier League rivals take anything from this mouthwatering fixture, they would do well to note the intention of the crosses.
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